Family Discipleship

From the Beginning
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”  Towards the end of delivering the promise of Isaac’s birth, God makes a statement of His election of Abraham to instruct his children in His ways.  This family discipleship is a mandate that is repeated throughout Scripture.  Founded on the promises of God, Abraham was called to lead his family to, “keep the way of the LORD”.  This, “way of the LORD”, is not just instruction delivered through words but through the living of, “righteousness and justice”.  Discipleship has been and always will be instruction through not only speaking the truth, but through living out that instruction.  The life of the believer is following the Lord, and as they follow Him, others are impacted and shown what it looks like to follow Him.  

Such discipleship is first and foremost accomplished within the home.  As a child, the first place you learn to exist in relationship is within the household.  It is no accident that the first commandment that fits under the umbrella of loving your neighbor as yourself is the command to, “honor your father and your mother”.  What does this have to do with family discipleship?  Kevin DeYoung says, “In this relationship with our parents, we learn what it is to have someone in authority over us, to listen to people, to honor them, and to do things that we sometimes don’t want to do.” He goes on to say, “The family is where we learn about respect and obedience and hopefully (if it is a good family) about love and protection.”  The relationship that is summed up with, “honor your father and your mother”, is a relationship of instruction and learning.  

We are both discipled and discipling within the context of the family.  Again, it is DeYoung who says, “Obedience, of course, implies that parents are giving commands and passing along instructions. We don’t hope that children figure things out for themselves.” Throughout Scripture it is the implication that parents are to be discipling their children.  This is the foundation of God’s words to Abraham in promising him that he will have a son.  Family discipleship is the starting point of understanding what it looks like to follow God’s command to love others.  This puts the responsibility for telling children about God, about worship, about why we exist, on their parents who are called to disciple them.  This has always been God’s design for the family, and it continues to be.

Until the End
The pattern of family discipleship isn’t locked in the Old Testament, it continues into the New Testament with the establishing of the Church.  Family discipleship isn’t a call of the past, it is also a call of the present, and will continue to be a call until Jesus returns.  Every family looks different, but this does not stop the pattern of family discipleship we are called to.  The effects of sin on marriage and family are not an excuse to neglect raising children to know who God is and know the redemption He has authored in His Son anymore than the effects of sin on worship being an excuse to neglect seeing worship restored in Jesus by the sovereign will of God.  

The language of “household” is used in the New Testament commonly to emphasize the call of family discipleship.  In John 4, Jesus heals an official’s son, and when he receives word of his son’s fever breaking the response is recorded in verse 53.  “The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.” As a result of witnessing the miraculous healing power and grace of Jesus, this official believes, but not only him.  His belief reaches his entire household because the firsthand learning that has taken place is passed on to his wife and children.  He led his household into believing in and worshiping Jesus.  

As the Church is established and expands in the book of Acts, Peter and Paul are bringing the gospel into city after city with a repeated result of their evangelism.  In Acts 11:14, Peter receives the call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and here is the description.  “He will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” The intention here is that through Peter declaring salvation to Cornelius, his entire household will be affected.  This is strange if we are not understanding it in light of family discipleship.  The message of salvation is reaching beyond just Cornelius through his own leadership and instruction of his household.  

In Acts 16, this same pattern occurs with Lydia and the Philippian jailer.  The gospel takes root in their lives and therefore it takes root in their household, for their families.  In Acts 18, Crispus believes along with his entire household as evidence of the permeation that takes place through family discipleship. Family discipleship is among the qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, which are good and profitable qualifications for every believer to strive for.  It is not only that elders and deacons should be managing their households through family discipleship, but parents, disciple your children as their primary discipleship partner.  

The Charge
There are countless opportunities each day for a lazy approach to marriage and parenting.  But there are countless opportunities each day for the biblical call of family discipleship.  Sometimes we are committed to “so very much” all while being committed to “so little” of actual substance.  Maybe instead of committing to another social function or another sports team, commit to being in the Word and praying together as a family each day.  We cannot expect our kids to follow a Lord and Savior who they do not see us follow.  In the family, every failure is an opportunity for the gospel, every disciplinary act is an opportunity for the gospel, every success is an opportunity for the gospel.  

Sometimes we make every excuse for why we are not discipling our families and oftentimes those excuses need to be countered with the charge to just do it.  Start small with reading a short passage of Scripture and praying together each day.  Add in catechism and singing together as this family worship becomes a regular practice in your household.  But ultimately, display for your family each day what it looks like to follow Jesus.  Show them the regular confession of sin.  Extend continual grace as one who has experienced unmatched grace.  Bring them up to understand a love for the Lord your God and a love for neighbor that extends beyond a love of self.  

Simply said, family discipleship happens as you follow Jesus.  So follow Him faithfully as you seek to love your family with the same self-sacrificing love He has shown you.